Careerism: Are you part of the problem?

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Brooks
  • 22nd Maintenance Squadron
Over the years, I've noticed, increasingly, more senior noncommissioned officers have become overly concerned about personal career advancement -- to the point where everything else is subordinate to it.

For some, career advancement is an obsession, and they'll put personal goals before almost anything else. This phenomenon is called careerism! There are two parts of the problem: those who put their personal advancement before everything else, and those who allow them to do so.

According to Dictionary.Com, careerism is an overwhelming desire to advance one's own career or social status, usually at the expense of other personal interests or social growth. Far too often in the military, this comes at the expense of our subordinates!

Have you ever walked up behind someone who was writing an award package and asked who it was on -- and the answer was them? Have I missed something? I thought it was the supervisor's job to identify deserving Airmen worthy of receiving recognition -- not the other way around? There's nothing more frustrating than to see someone anoint themselves as "the best of the bunch" and solicit recognition for being so! What's even worse is when they receive that recognition.

Being interested in your career progression is a good thing. Being concerned about it to the point you forget about your subordinates is not. One of our core values is "Service before self," and many of our supervisors have modified it to become "Service for self."

Some folks I've met over my career became obsessed with making the next grade to the point that any activity they did had to help them advance to the next grade in some way. If the action or activity couldn't be used in their enlisted performance reports to show leadership, dedication, skill, etc. -- forget about it.

I believe two things may have contributed to this phenomenon. First, because only three percent of our enlisted force can be promoted to the top two grades, some of our Airmen think if they don't win awards, their chances of advancement passed master sergeant are remote. I'll admit -- they can help but aren't a ticket to E-9. People should concentrate on job performance. If you're truly that amazing -- the awards should come.

Second, some supervisors may have become over tasked to the point that they don't have a lot of time to write award packages and see them as a "nice to do" and not a "must do.". Because of this, I believe they accept packages given to them by subordinates because they don't want to be seen as poor leaders for not submitting anyone, or as someone who doesn't take care of their people.

The bottom line is this: if you're truly deserving of advancement/recognition, the right people should see it and make it happen! All the awards in the world don't mean a thing if you haven't mastered your job at the current grade. If your EPR say's you can bake a mean chocolate chip cookie or can fly the highest kite - great. However, if it doesn't speak to how well you lead, how well you perform your job and the results of both, the likelihood of your advancement to the top two grades is remote anyhow.

All leadership, commissioned and noncommissioned officers, need to be on the look out for this phenomenon and eradicate it. You need to identify your best -- not the other way around! Don't accept and submit a package on someone because you were too busy or too lazy to write it yourself and feared some form of chastisement from your boss if you didn't! If you do, some of the leaders of tomorrow may be able to make a mean chocolate chip cookie or fly the highest kite but not be able to lead.

For those who are submitting packages on themselves, ask yourselves who's submitting packages on your subordinates?